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Agroecology vs. the Corporate Take Over of African Agriculture

November 7, 2017
Trees: Journal of the International Tree Foundation

Frederic Mousseau

Since the 2008 food price crisis, we have been told over and over that Africa needs foreign investors in agriculture to ‘develop’ the continent; that Africa needs a ‘Green Revolution’, more synthetic fertilisers, and genetically modified crops in order to meet the challenges of hunger and poverty. Yet, millions of Africans have designed and are already using effective agricultural practices, which don’t rely on Monsanto, Syngenta or some other corporation who increasingly control our seeds and agriculture.

Ancestral knowledge of the Gamo indigenous communities

In Ethiopia’s Gamo Highlands, biodiversity forms the basis of the traditional enset-based agricultural systems. Like many others across the continent, Gamo indigenous communities manage their natural resources in sound and sustainable ways, rooted in ancestral knowledge and customs, which makes them resilient to floods or droughts. Although African indigenous systems are often perceived as backward by central governments, they have a lot of learning to offer to the rest of the world when contemplating the challenges of climate change and food insecurity. Often building on such indigenous knowledge, farmers all over the continent have assembled a tremendous mass of successful experiences and innovations in agriculture. These efforts have steadily been developed over the past few decades following the droughts that impacted many countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

Adapting to drought

In Kenya, the system of biointensive agriculture has been designed to help smallholders grow the most food on the least land and with the least water. 200,000 farmers, feeding over one million people, have now switched to biointensive agriculture, which uses up to 90% less water than conventional agriculture and 50 to 100% fewer purchased fertilisers. Agroecology vs. the Corporate Take Over of African Agriculture The Sahel region is renowned for its harsh environment. What is less known is the tremendous success of the actions undertaken to curb desert encroachment, restore lands, and farmers’ livelihoods. The Keita rural development project in Niger took some twenty years to restore ecological balance and drastically improve the agrarian economy of the area. 18 million trees were planted, the surface under woodlands increased by 300% and shrubby steppes and sand dunes decreased by 30%. In the meantime, agricultural land was expanded by about 80%.

Agroecology increases yields and restores the land

All over the Sahel region, agroecological solutions have been used to restore degraded land and spare scarce water resources while increasing food production, and improving farmers’ livelihoods and resilience. In Timbuktu, Mali, the System of Rice Intensification has reached impressive results, with yields of nine tons of rice per hectare, more than double that of conventional methods. In Burkina Faso, soil and water conservation techniques, including a modernised version of traditional planting pits — zai — have been highly successful to rehabilitate degraded soils and boost food production and incomes